Lessons learned in usability testing

I’ve made some baby steps into the world of usability testing over the past few weeks. Here are some initial lessons I have learned.

Definitely find a QUIET place to do the tests. If in a private room, it still pays to put a sign on the door to say “Usability testing in progress – DO NOT DISTURB”. I borrowed an unused office for my usability tests, and I had coworkers opening the door in the middle of test sessions to say “Got your own office now eh? Moving up in the world eh? Hur hur hur.” And yes, now that the sign is there, I fully expect someone to open the door to ask me what “u-sa-bility testing” is. That’s when I’ll start locking the door.

When you’re listening to the playback, make sure you’re wearing some of those big-ass headphones like helicopter pilot style. It says “I can’t hear you right now”. That way you won’t get as many people interrupting you, wondering what strange movie you’re watching when they walk past your desk. Ah, for the halcyon days of worker privacy. In fact, it might be an idea to watch the playback in the usability lab. You’ll probably get it done faster this way.

There are two types of users you have to watch out for – Kiss-Asses and Smug Bastards. Kiss-Asses will tell you everything in your product is great, and everything they did wrong is entirely their fault because they’re forgetful / stupid / clumsy / tired. Smug Bastards will criticize everything they can, and try to “trip you up” at every opportunity with their razor-sharp cleverness and wonderful ideas about how to make your product better. If you were hoping I’d have advice for dealing with them, well you’re going to be disappointed. Just be aware of them.

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